Written by Luis Johnson

The Mountain Gorilla Digital Marketing Principle

The Mountain Gorilla Digital Marketing Principle

Over the course of my many years of experience in digital marketing and PR, I came up with the formulation of a firm belief, the base of what I – Roberto Liccardo – have called the “Mountain gorilla principle.”

The assumption is that given a field with limited resources, the harder people compete for those resources, the less – on average – they will succeed. In its immediate application to digital marketing, this means that the success of a strategy is inversely proportional to the number of efforts directed at it.


The formulation of the principle

When there is a limited number of people utilizing a growth strategy with limited efforts, their chances of achieving success are very high. But when the efforts of this group are large, or when a considerable number of new people start to use the same strategies, the latter stop working.

Some marketing channels are self-limiting to efforts, while some other channels do not pose any limitations. These last ones are mean to implode.

This is the case, for instance of digital ads, one of these channels without such limitations. Given an x number of buyers, a y number of ads is offered, and given an x*1M number of buyers, a y*1M number of ads is delivered to users. We have been exposed to an always-increasing number of digital ads during the years. As a result, we don’t longer believe what ads offer to us.

Many have called this the end of advertising.  In the words of Andrew Essex, author of The End of Advertising: “Advertising is indeed all over the place. And because there’s so much of it, not to mention all the noise and new platforms competing for our already-limited attention, the places where advertising is annoying, intrusive, and useless–e.g., mostly everywhere–is accelerating its extinction.

In my opinion, advertising is not dead; it just imploded. A marketing channel implodes when no longer helps you to achieve growth due to an increased number of people using it. Digital ads are getting over their implosion status, integrating with augmented and virtual reality, as well as leveraging tech to create new forms of engagement.

A self-limiting channel is SEO; the latter will never experience the implosion effect of digital ads. This is because SEO success is limited to a fixed number of users, regardless of how many users are leveraging SEO for achieving success. Media coverage is another great example of another self-limiting channel. Business owners use PR to leverage the credibility of media and journalists. Think about Forbes, and let’s assume that 0.1% of businesses can get mentioned in the outlet. These businesses leverage these mentions to prove that they “made it,” that they are great businesses, and that’s why they have been mentioned in Forbes. But now think about Medium. Since Medium is a self-publishing platform, everybody can get in Medium. Hence, there is no business that would write in their site “seen in Medium,” because that would bring no authority to that business.

In the example above, Forbes has to limit the number of placements on their platform to keep its effectiveness. This principle is what makes PR a non-implosive channel.


The application of the principle

At this point, you are probably wondering what mountain gorillas have to do with the phenomenon under discussion. Unlike other animals, mountain gorillas are non-territorial; thus, given the limited resource of the territory, they prefer to move to another area rather than competing or fighting. As reported “as humans have moved more and more into the gorillas’ territory, the gorillas have been pushed farther up into the mountains for longer periods… Despite ongoing civil conflict, poaching and an encroaching human population, both populations of mountain gorillas have increased in numbers.”

The success of the mountain gorillas species is driven by their ability to move to less competitive and resources-rich areas. In the same way, digital marketers who want to make quick wins should focus their efforts on less competitive marketing areas and on avoiding putting many efforts in implosive channels.

Let’s think about some iconic Growth Hacking examples, such as the Hotmail’s “Get Your Free Email at Hotmail” Tagline, YouTube’s Embed Code, Dropbox’s Referral Program, Twitter’s Recommended Followers, etc. They are all example of the application of what described here. As reported: “Social Media, etc. The chance of success on those is incredibly smaller compared to the success that can be achieved by exploring new channels or merely doing things in a different way compared to others.”